View of the coast from the summit of Cerro Alto.

View of the coast from the summit of Cerro Alto. Photo by Nina Martin.

San Luis Obispo is notorious for being a college town full of active students always looking for something to do. One of the main ways students occupy their time is by going on the many hikes and trails that are available throughout San Luis Obispo County. Of the many hikes there are to choose from, one that is particularly difficult yet rewarding is the Cerro Alto trail located in between Atascadero and Morro Bay.

According to the Sierra Club’s website, the hike is about 2.5 miles (one way) and is about a 1,600 feet elevation gain to the top of Cerro Alto Mountain. The plants on the mountain vary from lush vegetation to dry chaparral, with a year round stream.

It is a rugged, strenuous, steep and tough trail but you get a nice reward of some great views once you get to the top, Doug Carscaden, Ranger Service Supervisor at the City of San Luis Obispo Parks and Recreation, says.

“It is one of the only common U.S. Forest Service Campgrounds; it is U.S. Forest Service property. It is a must-do hike and a good conditioning hike for your summer backpacking trips also,” Carscaden says.

The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s website says that the little vegetation and high summer temperatures make this hike more enjoyable in the spring and fall. It also gives information on fees for hiking and camping and on the different types of passes you can buy for the campground.

It is a really good hike that is pretty steep and but worth the view at the top, Cindi Patterson, office manager at Central Coast Outdoors says.

“It is a good trail for mountain biking and birdwatching, that’s what I did when I hiked there,” Patterson says.

For many students living in SLO hiking is a common pastime and hobby. Matt Barksdale, a freshman at Cuesta College, has done the Cerro Alto hike at least 10 times.

“I have both mountain biked and ran the Cerro Alto trail,” Barksdale says. “My favorite part is the view that you get at the top. You can see all the way from Pismo Beach to Paso Robles.”

There are a lot of snakes and lizards on the hike, Barksdale says. Hikers should also watch out for poison oak, especially at this time of year.

“I would definitely recommend giving yourself a good amount of time to hike because it is pretty steep,” Barksdale says. “Also I recommend bringing a lot of water and maybe a jacket because it can get breezy at the summit because it is so high up.”

Matt Barksdale and Jenna Alvarado at the summit of Cerro Alto.

Matt Barksdale and Jenna Alvarado at the summit of Cerro Alto. Photo by Nina Martin.

For Cal Poly students looking for an adventurous activity that gives you a good workout this is a great option, Jenna Alvarado, junior Cal Poly student, says.

“I was not expecting it to be as steep and as long as it was, so I got pretty tired at the end,” Alvarado says. “But the view at the top is absolutely amazing! It is incredible how much of the central coast you can see from the top of the mountain.” gives a good description of all the different parts of the central coast you can see from the top of the Cerro Alto Mountain. It also provides the trail’s statistics and information such as the length at four miles and the top elevation at 2,624 feet.

This hike is a great option for students looking for a healthy, outdoors activity that is very rewarding in the end and a must-do on the SLO Graduation Bucket List!